Small sites setback as outer London boroughs say ‘no’ to new housing

19 February, 2019

A major dispute between the Mayor and the London boroughs over the feasibility of building almost a quarter of a million homes on small sites is threatening to derail City Hall’s drive to ease the capital’s housing crisis.

London’s 33 boroughs have been told by the Mayor Sadiq Khan they need to build 64,935 homes over the next 10 years – an increase of almost 100% from the existing London Plan. Of these, 24,573 are proposed for small sites –  defined as plots under 0.25 hectares – with London’s 20 outer boroughs supplying enough land for 17,593 units.

But the Mayor’s targets have been called “unjustified” and “undeliverable” by a number of councils, including Bexley which has been told it must build 865 homes a year on small sites  – a huge increase on its previous target of 109 units.

Havering Council faces a five-fold increase on its current level of small site development from151 to 904 units per year. But it says ‘the methodology’ used by the GLA to identify small sites is ‘flawed’ because it makes assumptions about the number of ‘windfall’ sites that will become available. Historically the London Plan has excluded windfall sites from its calculations because they do not have to be recognised in local plans.

Havering has the lowest density of dwellings in the capital with 889 per sq. kilometre while 54% of the borough is off-limits because of the Green Belt.

Enfield council says it is “not prepared to accept the target unless there is compelling evidence that it could be achieved”. It has commissioned its own research to see whether the proposed policy would significantly increase the supply of housing.

Research by CPRE estimates that Enfield has already enough brownfield sites to build 60,000 new homes – enough to meet around 20 years of housing requirements based on current needs.

Harrow, Newham and Be First have also rejected the Mayor’s policy, claiming the availability of small sites has been exaggerated by the GLA and are not based on boroughs’ own data and past completions.

Other consultees have pointed out there is lack of small developers interested in taking on small sites because of the “time, complexity and uncertainties involved in developing in London” and are unable to raise the necessary funding.

Boroughs are also concerned that they do not have the resources to prepare ‘area-wide design codes’ or identify suitable land for development as small sites are often not on brownfield registers.

An earlier initiative for a ‘Doomsday Book’ of developable sites in the capital failed to materialise after a high-profile launch by the then Mayor, Boris Johnson and chancellor George Osborne.

Consultees also point out that the draft policy (Policy H2) adds restrictions that don’t currently exist and will make development of small sites “much harder”.


Archiboo and Rare Space are running masterclasses on developing small sites. Our next small site conference is in May 2019. You can pre-register for both of these here